Not Just Another Veterans Day Sale
BY JIM BELSHAW
In May, Mokie Porter, the editor of
The VVA Veteran, went shopping at a Brooks Brothers store in
Chevy Chase, Maryland. Six months later, that shopping trip led to
Brooks Brothers holding a Veterans Day sales event that raised
$3,100 for VVA's Vietnam Veterans Assistance Fund (VVAF). It all
began with a conversation between a salesman and a customer. It
culminated in VVAF and one of America's best-known and respected
business names working toward the same goal--putting the veteran
back in Veterans Day.
The conversation with Brooks Brothers' sales associate Chris Dunne
led to further meetings with Rick Weidman, VVA's Director of
Government Relations; Joe Sternburg, VVAF Executive Director; and
Marcy Robinson, Brooks Brothers' District Manager. With
enthusiastic support from VVA President Tom Corey and VVAF
President Randy Barnes, a Veterans Day sale took place at the
Chevy Chase Brooks Brothers store with a unique goal that united
everyone involved: Rather than just holding another routine
holiday sale, the organizers sought to bring a fuller
meaning to Veterans Day.
"It was fantastic," District Manager Robinson said. "We were so
excited. When we first came up with the idea, we were
brainstorming, thinking about something we wanted to do that was
unique, especially coming into the holiday season. When the idea
of Veterans Day came up, we began thinking in terms of
giving back to the veterans community."
Mokie Porter first met Chris Dunne in
the spring, when she went into Brooks Brothers to buy clothes for
her teen-aged son. As she and Dunne worked on outfitting her son,
the conversation covered a wide range of subjects. Porter asked if
Dunne had been in the military. He hadn't, but his brother, a
Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, had served in the Persian Gulf
War and was in the Marine Corps Reserve. She mentioned work VVA is
doing at Walter Reed Army Hospital, helping returning veterans
from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
"We talked about the connection between Vietnam veterans and Iraq
veterans, the incredible connection between the warriors of two
different wars," Porter said. "We talked about how many Vietnam
veterans had sons and daughters serving in Iraq and
Afghanistan and the heartfelt, genuine sense of responsibility VVA
members feel for the men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Porter returned to the shop over the ensuing months, bringing
family members and friends and introducing them to Dunne. A
friendship grew. On one of those shopping trips, Dunne told her of
the meeting in which the store's management and staff had decided
to link their Veterans Day sale to a fundraiser on behalf of
Dunne, who had worked on several political campaigns, has contacts
all over Washington. He was charged with finding out which
organizations would be interested in working with Brooks Brothers.
He knew people from Walter Reed and the National Institutes of
Health shopped at the store, but when Mokie Porter came in, Dunne
found the non-profit partner with whom he wanted to work.
"Chris took it and ran with it," Robinson said. "From there, we
just had a lot of people who bought into the idea and helped to
make it happen."
Dunne encouraged Porter to arrange a meeting with VVA.
"I said, 'Why don't we put this together?' " Dunne said. "It
snowballed from there."
VVAF Executive Director Joe Sternburg said it was unusual for a
retailer to approach the organization with such an offer.
"I think it was a success because we don't get a lot of people
walking through saying, 'Hey, we want to do something on your
behalf.' Chris and the district manager felt it would be
successful if they hit $25,000 in sales. They hit $31,000.
VVA President Tom Corey found much to
admire in Brooks Brothers' effort to make the day more purposeful
for all involved.
"I hope we can do something like this every Veterans Day and
Memorial Day," he said. "The recognition of those who served and
those who serve now is so important to all of us. Brooks Brothers
didn't just have a sale. They, in fact, gave back part of their
profits. I hope other retailers might do the same."
After approaching Porter about VVA involvement in the Veterans Day
event, Dunne met with Weidman and others to work out the details.
"I give Chris Dunne a lot of credit for having the vision to put
the veteran back in Veterans Day," Porter said. "It's amazing that
Brooks Brothers was willing to take the lead. I couldn't think of
a finer store to do that."
Brooks Brothers sent out mailers to its customers. Weidman passed
out invitations at the White House. "The response was terrific,"
Porter said. "It was a great time. It was the best attendance
they'd ever had for a special event. It would be great if other
national retailers thought about veterans on Veterans Day and gave
10 percent of their take to veterans organizations. That's what
I'd like to see happen. If we wait too long, Veterans Day will be
lost completely to the domain of commerce and the veteran will be
taken out of it. The day will become just another holiday sale,
the one you have before Thanksgiving."
Brooks Brothers' Robinson thought the war in Iraq played an
important role in the turnout. Pointing out that many family
members of the store's sales associates are serving or have
served, Robinson said the war was very much on the minds of
everyone in Washington.
"There was a lot of discussion about that at the sales event," she
Marcy Robinson remains optimistic about future events that she
hopes will range much farther than Chevy Chase.
"It was fantastic," she said. "Overall, the feeling we got from
the event was that it turned out exactly the way we wanted. It was
a first-time, grassroots effort that I hope at some point will
expand into something company-wide on a national basis. I haven't
spoken with our marketing people about doing something on an
expanded basis down the road, but it would be a great thing if we
could go national with it."